My bonny John was 30 when he recorded, with the orchestra that bears his name, this achingly tender theme.
I saw The Bad and the Beautiful (MGM, 1952) for the first time in New York when I was 20, at one of those great cinema art houses, the Little Carnegie I think. Anyone remember that fabulous nosh pit in the lobby of the Little Carnegie? It was set up to resemble an outdoor Parisian cafe, complete with wrought tables and chairs, painted scenery, etc… Here after the show my date treated me to a glass of cabernet and a flaky meat pasty, the leftovers of which the waiter wrapped up for me in a square of foil he molded into the shape of a swan.
What do you do when you’re a passionate actress still in love with a wounding bastard who’s a screen genius? You make the damn movie.
As for Bad+Beautiful: Cast headed by Lana Turner, Kirk Douglas, Gloria Grahame, Dick Powell, Barry Sullivan, Gilbert Roland, Walter Pigeon. Vincent Minnelli helmed. MGM, 1952 (trailer here). 5 Oscar wins. To feel the full effect, get your heart stomped on by a Hollywood louse before viewing.
“The Bad and the Beautiful”
Soft Lights and Sweet Music, album
Classic Angela Morley Arrangements
The John Wilson Orchestra
John Wilson, conductor
*Oscar-winning transsexual composer-arranger Angela Morley (1924-2009) has quite a story herself, which maybe I’ll get to in another posting. For now, here’s a 1977 article in the Independent that should whet your interest.
The thing I first noticed first about this disc was the total commitment of the interpretations. A year later, a second volume appeared also devoted to the delightful compositions of Eric Coates. Once again I was struck by the deep understanding and respect show to these often unfamiliar scores, something which isn’t always the cast when this music is performed by orchestras and conductors who just do not seem to understand the idiom.
A little later I learnt that John was preparing a complete edition of the works of Eric Coates, so no wonder he is so completely “inside” this lovely music.
Born in Gateshead in 1972, John Wilson studied composition and conducting at the Royal College of Music, where he graduated in 1995 winning all the main prizes, and also where he was awarded the prestigious Tagore Gold Medal, the highest award attainable by a student at the college.
In 1996 John formed The Sinfonia of Westminster, a group comprised of the pick of the outstanding musicians from leading soloists and chamber groups. But John also enjoys a parallel career conducting The John Wilson Orchestra, which is comprised of young musicians devoted to keeping alive the music of The Great American Songbook, including arrangements by Nelson Riddle, Billy May, Robert Farnon, Paul Weston and Conrad Salinger. The orchestra has given concerts in London’s Queen Elizabeth Hall to great acclaim. He also appears regularly at Pizza in the Park and is the youngest conductor to broadcast on Radio 2’s long running Friday Night Is Music Night programme. John is also a prolific arranger himself, producing numerous orchestrations for film and television and he was also responsible for arranging all the music for the Hong Kong handover celebrations. The first two CDs to appear featuring The John Wilson Orchestra come from two different labels. The first one from Velvetone comprises 19 titles recorded at the CTS Studios in Wembley in 1998. Sarah Moule is the sensitive vocalist on eight tracks including “I Concentrate on You” and “Words Can’t Describe”, a little-known song once recorded by Sarah Vaughan. The rest is all orchestral, my favourites being “Skyliner” and “Cherokee”, both arranged by Neil Richardson, and Bob Farnon’s superb reworking of David Raksin’s classic “Laura”, which for me is worth the price of the disc alone!
John’s most recent CD is a first from Michael Dutton’s Vocalion Digital label. Previously this label has concentrated on re-issues of classic dance band and jazz recordings. They are now embarking on a series of original recordings made specially for the label, and John’s CD Orchestral Jazz is included in the first release. Using 24 strings, 4 winds, 5 rhythm and piano, this disc sounds superb and no wonder, featuring as it does on Richard Rodney Bennett playing piano on 4 tracks and providing arrangements for 8 tracks including “On the Sunny Side of the Street”, “Lush Life” and “Melancholy Baby”.
The remaining arrangements are shared between John himself and Neil Richardson.
Listen out for Ian Moffat’s superb trombone, also Enrico Tomasso on trumpet and Luke Annesley doubling on sax and clarinet. This issue should be snapped up by all who enjoy the very best in orchestral jazz. If you enjoy Nelson Riddle’s recordings then you should love this CD.
One wonders what the future has in store for John Wilson. Personally I would welcome a disc devoted to the music of Robert Farnon, and what about a CD of the great arrangements of the unsung hero of MGM musicals, Conrad Salinger. But whatever, the name John Wilson will ensure that the great music of the twentieth century will be kept alive, played and presented superbly by a young master interpreter.
The following was translated on Google from the Czech and transcribed by me—except for minor grammatical emendations—verbatim:
PRAGUE DAILY | 24 SEPTEMBER 2007 – John Wilson has brought restored film music to the Prague Autumn and is preparing to pay his respects to John Williams.
From the point of view, conductor John Wilson gives the impression of an intelligent young man. He is one of those rare people who is a joy to meet. In addition, he finished a several-hour rehearsal with the Czech Radio Symphony Orchestra. He has prepared a concert for the Prague Autumn Festival, called “Famous Film Music from Hollywood”, which will be performed twice due to great interest. At the age of thirty-five, Wilson has gained a recognition that many might envy. Some time ago, for example, he performed at the prestigious BBC Proms music festival, but he still remains modest and immediately attracts listeners with a helpful, understanding speech.
It surprises me that at your age, you are so interested in early film music. One would expect that a witness would be more enthusiastically interested in the archives.
I would like something really valuable to be left behind. That is why I try to concentrate a large part of my energy and diligence on the restoration of old, often non-existent or directly lost sheet music scores. [I do this] most often in collaboration with the Hollywood studios Warner Bros and MGM. In the 1960s, the MGM studio liquidated its entire music library, which was one of the largest and most valuable of its time. At the time, people simply did not think that film music needed to be preserved for future generations. The only thing that has survived are the movies. I’m trying to correct their mistake now.
This must be extremely challenging.
Yes, it really is. It is necessary to listen to the whole composition from the film second by second and to the smallest detail. I’ve seen “The Wizard of Oz” at least two hundred times. With all your will and senses, you focus on each and every measure. You must not miss anything if you want to get the most accurate description possible. You spend all day working hard and eventually find that you have two or three seconds of music. You have to be patient, but I think it’s worth it.
Will we hear the result of your efforts at your Prague concert?
Yes. The first in the first part, which will focus mainly on music “for witnesses”, will be heard, for example, the remembered “Wizard of Oz”. In the second half, however, I would like to pay tribute to John Williams. Not only because he is one of the best modern composers of film music, also successful and popular, but also because Williams is more based on tradition than anyone else. Therefore, I hope that the listeners will notice the context, which I would like to point out non-violently at the concert.
Do you mean, for example, the work of Erich Wolfgang Korngold, a Czech native famous during The Golden Age of Hollywood?
Naturally. Williams’s orchestration, for example, is almost identical to his. This is clearly evident in “Star Wars”, which, of course, cannot be missing from the program. You must understand that Williams began as a pianist in Hollywood recording studios in the 1950s and came into direct contact with the generation that laid the foundations of modern film music. In addition to Korngold at the time, Max Steiner and Alfred Newman, who is the composer of perhaps Hollywood’s most famous tune, a fanfare of 20th Century Fox, were still active. At the same time, I hope that the audience will recognize how much Williams still remains himself and in the true sense of the word, an original.
Last of the Mohicans
Are you well acquainted with the past of film music, but how do you look at its future?
You know, Williams is seventy-five years old this year, and even though he’s still active and still composing great music, he won’t be here forever. I don’t think there’s anyone in the current generation who can replace him. That’s why I’m afraid the whole era of film music will leave with John Williams.
But that sounds pretty hopeless.
Maybe a little. On the other hand, I am convinced that the hope of film music can be the current generation of European composers, who come up with cultured, intelligent and imaginative music. In Hollywood, on the other hand, music is basically declining, becoming flatter and flatter by the day. Sure, it helps the film become great, but I prefer music that will stand up on its own. My concert is also trying to point out that. I try to prove that good film music is not lost in concert halls.
At the same time, film music is struggling for recognition, and many musicologists still see it as an indecent, used form.
In the words of a classic: “Who ever built a monument to a critic?” I will not say at all what the critics say. The attitude of such people is not so critical or professional, but rather snobbish. But attitudes and opinions are changing. Constantly. In July, for example, I conducted British film music with great success at the BBC Proms, a large and acclaimed festival. No one would have dreamed of that ten years ago.
Give a Girl a Break (trailer here)is a US 1953 musical comedy film starring Debbie Reynolds and the dance team of Marge and Gower Champion. Helen Wood, Richard Anderson, Kurt Kaszner and a young Bob Fosse have featured roles. At only 88 minutes, Give a Girl a Break shows residual elements of the big project it started out to be, with a passable score by Burton Lane and Ira Gershwin, direction by Stanley Donen, and musical direction by Andre Previn.
Another MGM musical, pre-Freed Unit. Music by Bob Wright, Chet Forrest and Herbert Stothart (adapted from “Chanson” by Rudolf Friml); lyrics by Bob Wright and Chet Forrest, who would go on to adapt the music of Rimsky-Korsakov for the 1953 Broadway musical Kismet.
Two years earlier Allan Jones made a big splash as Kitty Carlisle‘s tenor squeeze in the Marx Brothers romp A Night At the Opera.Here he is in a clip on my YT channel movie-romancing a reluctant Jeanette MacDonald, who was smack in the middle of a fraught but passionate affair with a baritone with a thrilling voice and a black temper—Nelson Eddy, who, upon learning that Jones was putting the real-life moves on MacDonald, crashed the cast party of Firefly, collared Jones and beat him to a bloody pulp. Now that’s love.
Played the violin part in this in my junior high school orchestra. Liked it more than Bach. Above: “Donkey Serenade” by Oscar-winning MGM musical director, Herbert Stothart. Stothart, recently deceased, was paid tribute to by incoming MGM musical director Johnny Green in his 1954 MGM Jubilee Overture, the signature tune of my beloved John Wilson and his Orchestra.